Stunned Neighbors Speak Glowingly Of Older Couple And Children That Perished

STAMFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork) — A fire fully engulfed a home on Christmas morning. A mother made it out alive, but her three kids and two parents, tragically, did not.

The children, a 9-year-old and 7-year-old twins, were seen in a photo obtained by CBS 2 with their grandparents. Their grandfather was dressed as Santa Claus.

On Monday the old Victorian home they could not escape was no longer standing, now a pile of rubble after demolition teams tore it down. Investigators are still trying to figure out how the fire started.

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Flowers, stuffed animals and a card sat by the foot of the Christmas cataclysm — five lives lost in the once-imposing 19th century home facing Long Island Sound.

“As it built you could look up and see the flames,” Tom Olson told CBS 2’s Sean Hennessey on Monday night.

Olson was still trying to wrap his mind around the horror of what happened to his neighbors.

“I can’t imagine waking up one day and having my children and my parents dead in one swoop like that. I don’t think I even understand the depth of that pain,” Olson said.

Lomer Johnson as Santa Claus, with his wife Paula, standing, and three grandchildren. All died in a blaze on Christmas Day, 2011. (credit:

“Why? Why do these things happen?” somber neighbor Arlene Holko wondered aloud.

Madonna Badger lost her three children and both parents in the blaze. The deputy chief in charge of the scene said the frantic mother and her friend, Michael Borcina, were trying desperately to rescue the trapped victims when firefighters arrived. CBS 2’s Lou Young spoke with him by phone on Monday afternoon.

“They were trying to get back in the building. Our engine crews had to take them from the roof so we could start rescue operations. Our crews made it into the building and we searched, but, unfortunately, the people were not where we thought they were going to be,” Stamford Fire Deputy Chief Bill Smith said.

CBS 2 News has learned investigators are focusing on the fireplace as a likely cause. A source told Hennessey that Badger told investigators she and Borcina took coals out of the fireplace as a way to have the fire die down quicker. Those coals, it’s believed, may have sparked the flames.

The bodies of the girls and their grandparents were found on the upper floors. It appears 71-year-old Lomer Johnson, who often worked as a Santa Claus this time of year, was trying to lead one of his granddaughters to safety at a third-floor window when they simply ran out of time.

“He had actually gone through the window. He was on a flat roof that they had made like a rain roof out of it. He succumbed right there, and we found a child inside the window covered in debris,” Stamford Fire Acting Chief Antonio Conte said.

The house was a local treasure as seen from year-old real estate photos. Badger was in the process of renovating it. Borcina, the other survivor of the blaze, was doing that work for her.

Becki Andersen’s parents sold the house to Badger.

“She loved it. That’s what made it so wonderful for us. She loved it as much as we did,” Andersen said.

Now it’s difficult for anyone to contain their horror at what has happened.

“The house is just wood and glass. It’s just a house. I feel for Madonna and the children and her parents. It’s a tragedy. It’s heartbreaking,” Andersen said.

“I guess you always do personalize and you think in terms could it happen to me? Could it happen to my us?” neighbor Stan Miller said.

That it did happen has neighbors stunned and sickened.

“It’s one of the worst tragedies that I’ve heard of in a long time,” John DiBacca said.

Madonna Badger (credit:

As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reports, Lomer and Pauline Johnson had lived in the Heritage Village retirement community in Southbury.

They were only there for about two years, but that was was plenty long enough to make friends, and make an impression as a loving couple who lived for their children and grandchildren.

Leo Ditkoff told Aiello that losing his neighbors has cast a terrible pall on the holiday season.

“I just remember saying ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.’ What a horrible way to die. It really shook me up,” Ditkoff said.

Neighbor Barbara Jeffrey reflected on what she saw of Lomer and Pauline.

“They were here a lot, the three girls. Yeah, they had them here a lot. And they were at Madonna’s quite a bit, too,” Jeffrey said.

Badger, 47, is a well-known advertising executive for the fashion industry. She helped create the famed “Marky Mark” ads for Calvin Klein underwear, featuring actor and model Mark Wahlberg.

Neighbors said Badger’s parents, the Johnsons, were friendly and full of life. They loved Christmas and decorated extensively to celebrate the season.

“Pauline was very outgoing, very vivacious, loving, a great friend,” Jeffrey said.

Lomer Johnson grew a lush beard after retiring and went to work as a Santa for hire. He spent Dec. 24 delighting children at the flagship Saks Fifth Avenue store in Midtown.

“That nice white beard, and that ‘ho ho ho’ face that he has, I told him you’d make a great a Santa Claus. He said ‘ho ho ho, that’s what I do!’” Ditkoff said.

The Johnsons often brought their granddaughters to a Southbury Friendly’s restaurant, where Lomer Johnson always asked for the same booth and the same waitress.

“I always used to joke with him, say you always look like Santa all year round. He would smile, always kind, always pleased.  Very nice man, very nice family,” restaurant manager Aristotel Zoto said.

Waitress Robin McKenna said she often served the couple at a nearby diner.

“No … just that I’m going to miss them. You know some people are a fixture here. You know what I mean, when you’re used to seeing them all the time?” McKenna told CBS 2’s Don Dahler.

Let us know your thoughts on this tragedy in the comments section below.

Comments (26)
  1. Deborah Jeffries says:

    Those who are so quick to put down Madonna Badger’s and Michael Borcina’s critics, should realize that there we are not small in number and are simply asking the tough questions that have been ignored by authorities.

    There were so many levels of recklessness on the part of the two parties that ultimately led to the deaths of five people.

    A sad fact is that this woman is being treated with kid gloves because of her affluence and prominence.

    It’s grossly unfair to the legions of average people who’ve been jailed for lesser degrees of negligence.

    A prosecutor will unlikely touch this case fearing a sympathetic jury pool.

    It’s just not right.

  2. Deborah Jeffries says:

    The only heroes in this story are the grandparents and the firefighters whose lives were put in jeopardy due to the recklessness of two people who managed to get out.

    The real victim is Mr. Badger, the estranged husband and the children’s father.

    His children are dead because of his estranged wife’s bad judgment and her lover directly causing the fire.

    Michael Borcina’s comments couldn’t have been colder considering he was the moron who caused the tragedy.

    When Mr. Badger’s grief is a little more tolerable over time, he should sue Borcina for wrongful death.

    Won’t bring back his family, but will knock some of the arrogance out of the inconsiderate fool.

  3. Marian DeRossett says:

    May God be with you and your family and I am praying for you.This has to be horrible to go thru this tragedy.So sorry for your loss and many people care.
    Marian from Maryland


    My prayers go out to to Ms.Badger and her family. I lost my mother this past july 10 also do to a fire in her house , cause by an extension cord . almost lost my father too ,but for some reason god decided to leave him with us for a little while longer. he was right by her side when it all took place , in some sense i’m glad she wasn’t alone. the pain is devastating so i know some what of how you might be feeling . i know that at this time there is no words that no one can say that might make you feel like things will be ok . cause i was and still am in much pain like yourself . but please believe me when i say with time you will start feeling better and yes you will miss them for ever but they will be happy in heaven and always with you in your heart. and you will be ok . God Bless you and give you all the strength you need right now . ( LIZ LAFF )

  5. Dennis Monsour says:

    Pauline and Lomer were Neighbors and friends for over 25 Years. truly the nicest people you could have for neighbor. We. had many Fun times Together Everyone will miss you!
    My Prayers Go Out to Madonna.

  6. Joel says:

    So much sorrow. Home owners need to be careful during the holidays
    with electrical wiring, trees and fireplaces.

  7. Nathalie says:

    I lost my mother a few months ago and the pain is still very raw. Christmas was awful without her. I cannot imagine how this poor woman will be able to cope with the pain of loosing those closest to her all at the same time. I hope she gets all support she deserves. It is so awful, I cried for her and her family.

  8. Fatima Wiesner Cole says:

    This is one of the reason for people do what they do, i do hope she is free of mind, but this is what real world is right now, i do see this everyday in news all over and is not a evil or any name that people may call me but we see this everyday, and the people that you never thought about it are guilty so stop been blowing glass with air because that is the truth and yes i do have God and because i do have God is because i have not a bag in my eyes to cover the real truth.

  9. AJ says:

    This is the saddest story I have ever heard. My heart breaks for this family and everyone involved. What a tragedy.. Speechless. Thoughts and prayers from Boston…

  10. Barb says:

    Hugs and deeply felt prayers to you who are left with this painful loss, my heart goes out to you and yours. I pray that there may come a time where you can find some peace. Truly, there are no words to convey to you my sense of pain at your devastating loss. May there be many, many friends surrounding you with loving arms, to help you in the coming difficult times ahead. There is so much I wish that I could say but in the end, all I can send to you is prayers. There are no words that can really help. Just know that there are a lot of us who are standing with you in Spirit, today, tomorrow, and for a long time.

    Love and Prayers from North Dakota

  11. Fed up with hypocrites says:

    All I can say is psycho! Get off the net and get help.

  12. Fed up with hypocrites says:

    You are a pathetic human being. It really is a shame that because of your in ability to be successful, you would pick a situation like this to spew your ugliness. this is why your cause has not penetrated mainstream America. I will keep this person and her family in my prayers.

    1. cop kid says:

      to “Fed Up With Hyporites” – don’t waste ur breath, honey. there’s always 1 or 2 that make comments like this 4 the SOLE PURPOSE of getting that spotlight they crave & taking the focus away from where it should be, in this case the Badger/Johnson family & Mr. Bocina. u waste ur breath, they laugh & feel triumphant, then there’s just another 1 waiting to do the egg u on again tomorrow. don’t u see? when u reply 2 that garbage, they win! I sincerely hope EVERYONE reads this & completely ignores this 1 & future ones. cause they ain’t goin’ nowhere & they’ll never change. so it’s up to US to take away their “power” — by totally disregarding them. focus ALL ur energy on the families affected by this senseless tragedy…..& continue to be blessed.

  13. Patty says:

    My heart broke when I read this story. I can’t even begin to understand how the Badgers feel right now. My prayers and condolences go out to both.

  14. Eileen Harte says:

    Our prayers are with the entire family and with our nephew, Michael Borcina.

  15. You are Evil! says:

    After I read your evil response again, I notice you hope thatt God should have mercy on the Mother for her actionsl. If you truly believe in God than you know that all that happens in our world is by God’s will. Why would you add such hateful thoughts into your post if you believe in God?

    1. Rodin says:

      Why would your almighty, all knowing, ever present, infinitely loving gØd will this? Atonement, test of faith, wanton cruelty?

      Good without gØds.

  16. Stephanie says:

    How do you know she didn’t try to save them? Would you be able to walk directly into a fire in your pajamas to rescue people? It was probably so intense at that point that she was not able to.

  17. Fernanda says:

    May God have mercy on YOU!
    How can you read a horrible story like this one and all you can do is to judge a mother who must be still in shock?
    Those children were probably terrify to think clearly on what to do and/or how to exit the house safely. I know that my 10 year old daughter wouldn’t know what to do if she were ever in a similar situation.

  18. Melanie Clint says:

    What a horrible response to a devastating tragedy! Pauline and Lomer have been friend’s of my family for over 40 years. There could be nothing further from the truth. I just spent Christmas with my parents and they are devastated. We all are devastated. There are no words to express how deeply saddened we are by this tragedy. We prayed for Madonna this morning and will continue to pray for all involved. We hope all who hear will do the same. On behalf of the Young Family, Melanie.

  19. Maya Sheetal says:

    God bless Madonna n Matthew
    This is tragedy and an unsurmountable loss
    Losing your children is something that leaves you broken no child is replaceable
    God give them peace and may they know love
    They will be reunited with the children one day and Madonna must feel such pain that she lost her beloved parents
    There is no going back and I hope Matthew n Madonna can resolve their pain without bitterness and blame, but only with compassion

  20. Christopher - Duluth, GA says:

    Dear Mr & Mrs. Badger…. Hug…hug…hug….hug…hug….hug…~

  21. Michael Ayers says:

    Please extend my heartfelt sadness to Madonna Badger for her tragic loss. I do not think I have ever read a sadder story in my life. Her loss must be unbearable, but let her know that there are others who are feeling her pain. We never know what God’s plan is, but we must trust that he knows best. God bless you and your family.

  22. Joey dunst says:

    So so tragic, I cannot even begin to imagine what they are feeling.

    1. Marian DeRossett says:

      I am so sorry for your loss this has to be horrible for you and your husband.My deepest symphony and prayers go out to you.There are many out here who care.

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